In the Tour de France, the best and the worst often come last. The moments of greatest drama, daring and catastrophe often arrive when exuberance gives way to exhaustion. The race’s final days pack in the panoply of challenges that make the Tour the world’s greatest—and most challenging—bike race. Hungry mountains, torrential rain and imploding stars on the final push to Paris upended the race classification and made it a third week that will live in infamy in the annals of Tour history. Starting with the final day, let’s go back and look at the most striking images 2016 . We begin where the race ended for Chris Froome, relieved, triumphant and with the joy of holding his child after a hard fought victory.
Andre Greipel breathed a sigh of relief when he crossed the line first on the on the Champs-Élysées. The win extended several notable hot streaks for the Gorilla: stage wins in 10 straight Grand Tours and four wins on the Tour’s final day.
The final podium might have been a formality for Froome, but for everyone else in the top 10, the remaining two steps of the podium were there for the taking throughout the final week. The battle was fierce. At one point, there were five riders within two minutes of second place - and on that day, Stage 18 - the podium was completely different. Bauke Mollema in second, Adam Yates in third. Nairo Quintana was fourth, Romain Bardet was fifth. The next day, Mollema capitulated and dropped out of contention entirely.
Timo Roosen tumbled on the Champs and earned something special to take home with him besides the fatigue of three weeks of racing: road rash.
Hours before the men made their triumphant entrance on to the famous Parisian circuit, the women battled it out at La Course. Wiggle-High5’s Chloe Hosking took the win, with Lotta Lepistö and Marianne Vos following just behind.
Joaquim Rodriguez received the honor of hitting the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées first during his last Tour. Then it was drill time.
The race uses every single millimeter of the Champs-Élysées when it hits warp speed in the final few laps.
Cannondale’s Kristijan Koren took control of the bunch in the final half lap - and took a KOM - as the team pushed to set up Ramunas Navardauskas.
Lotto pushed hard throughout the Tour with Thomas De Gendt putting in a fantastic series of performances. But the real pressure fell squarely on Greipel’s square shoulders. The German came close on a number of stages, but didn’t get it right until the final day. A short while after Greipel roared in happiness, his teammates and leadout men, Greg Henderson and Adam Hansen crossed the finish line smiling and, like Greipel, relieved.
About nineteen hours before Greipel’s triumph and Froome’s coronation, mechanics were hard at work preparing bikes for the next day. The race finished in the town of Morzine around six that Saturday evening. From there, the teams had a 600+ kilometer drive from the Alps to Chantilly. For most of the teams, it meant driving about halfway, then setting up shop late that night to finish the day’s work.
At the base of the Saisies and just before the Aravis, only a few meters above the beautiful alpine town of Flumet, there are a perfect series of switchbacks that flow into a picturesque bridge across the Arly River.
A huge break careens down the descent of the Colombiere.
In one day, Stage 20 saw every form of summer weather possible. Bright, warm, sunny skies gave way to a torrential downpour, then sun, then rain, then sun, then really hard rain, then finally steady and gloomy rain on top of the Joux Plane.
With Sky taking care of the general classification situation at the front of the field, each day during the final week allowed the chance for aggressive, strong riders to try their hand at the stage winning game. Many were happy to give it a go.
Sky controlled their competition like a python toying with its prey, but even with their precise control of the proceedings, there was some leeway for just the right rider to go at just the right time. The rider? Romain Bardet. The aggressive French climber managed an impressive stage victory as well as an even more stunning jump from 5th to 2nd overall with his daring escape in the rain.
Pierre Rolland, the two-time stage winner and former best young rider, came into this year’s Tour with high hopes. But a crash in the Pyrenees ended his overall chances and his second crash ruined his hopes for a stage win. For all the bad luck he endured, Rolland kept going. He was a constant part of the early aggression each day. Chapeau, Pierre, for a courageous ride through France.
Precise number pinning, bracelets, which helmet, coffee, a chat, waiting—all part of the routine before a time trial at the Tour de France.
The mainly uphill time trial from Sallanches to Megeve was an entertaining adventure with every type of terrain thrown into the 17k course - including a harrowing, ultra-high-speed 2k descent to the finish. This was not a “put your head down and pedal” time trial - riders were tested to the full extent of their abilities on this course. It was a good one.
In the mountains, there always came a moment when team Sky took to the front for what looked like a team time trial. The furious tempo made it all but impossible for attacks from GC rivals.
Laurens ten Dam played a vital part in the Giant-Alpecin Tour story from start to finish and did it with a smile that he seems to carry everywhere.
Peter Sagan can’t stop, won’t stop winning.
Fabian Cancellara got the unique opportunity to go home to Bern in his farewell Tour. The finale of the stage through the cobbled streets of Switzerland’s capital city seemed tailor made for the legend, but Cancellara had no answer for the showdown between Kristoff and Sagan - with Sagan taking the win in the bike throw.
The Tour doesn’t often visit the Jura Mountains - the northern edge of the Alps that straddle the French/Swiss border - but they should. The Grand Colombier provided all the drama of a big mountain stage without the big mountain elevation.
Stage 14 was the culmination of an appalling string of days where the wind played a huge part in the proceedings. Riders experienced wind in every direction during this rough string of days, but on the 14th stage, it was almost entirely of the headwind variety. The long stage became that much longer. Cavendish came from seemingly nowhere to take his fourth win of this year’s Tour and the 30th of his career.
If one needed any more evidence that this year’s Tour route was a bit different than normal, the fact that the first time trial wasn’t until Stage 13 was further proof. Tom Dumoulin took the stage win, while many riders fought just to keep their wheels on the ground as the mistral winds raged through the Ardeche.
The wind howled and roared and cursed - so much so that the Tour had to bring the much anticipated summit finish atop Mont Ventoux down 6.5k to Chalet Reynard. The frontrunners crashed and Froome ran on an unforgettable day.
If Chris Froome’s downhill stage win was the stuff of legend, Stage 11’s was every bit its equal. When Peter Sagan got a tiny gap in the latter moments of a super stressful, crosswind-cursed day, Froome immediately followed, and soon, the group of four was off to the races. With some of the best riders in the field chasing the foursome at the front, they made no inroads, as Sagan took another stage win, and Froome further underlined his dominance.
After a much needed rest day in Andorra, riders were subjected to a monster opening climb before the long, mostly easy drag to the finish. The day’s high-powered break held off the field, and it was Michael Matthews who got the chance to celebrate over the line.
After a hot start to the day, the clouds rolled in, the water poured forth, then the hail came to make sure everyone understood that this was not just a normal summer storm.
While Froome’s rivals watched for him to blow the race apart on the climbs, he stunned everyone with a downhill attack.
Steve Cummings took the day in glorious solo fashion. Far behind, Greg Van Avermaet defended his overall lead…by getting into the day’s break and beating the GC favorites to the line.
Young Dan McLay got close to Mark Cavendish in another wild bunch kick. But not close enough.
Unlike most years, the race hit the mountains early and hard. A tough day in the Massif Central saw the two Belgians, Van Avermaet and De Gendt go the distance, with Van Avermaet taking the day and yellow.
Only four days into the race, and already riders struggle to stay ahead of fatigue.
Everyone says it’s the hardest race in the world - and they’re not lying - normally. Stage 3 of this year’s Tour will always be remembered as the day the race fell asleep. After two aggressive, wild days, the peloton decided to enjoy a lengthy piano session. They stopped for pee break after pee break to allow the day’s solo break to stay up the road unimpeded. Things didn’t really get moving until the final hour of a 6.5-hour day.
The peloton pushed towards an ominous sky long before Team Sky took total control of the race, and Sagan broke his dry spell.
Mark Cavendish had one of the happiest moments of his career: he took the stage and his first ever yellow jersey.
Marcus Burghardt gives a wave to the thousands of fans along the Champs-Elysees. And so do we - thanks for joining us for the 2016 Tour de France.
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